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Use of force policies for neck restraints, chokeholds vary across city and county lines

Posted at 5:28 PM, Jun 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-12 23:21:36-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- As protests continue in the wake of the death of George Floyd, who died after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck, the I-Team reviewed neck restraint policies for law enforcement agencies across the Tampa Bay area.

The words, “I can’t breathe,” words Floyd uttered again and again before his death, have become a rallying cry of a national movement to end police brutality.

Over the last week, I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern reviewed more than 600 pages of “use of force” policies for 16 local police departments and sheriff’s offices, and found how law enforcement views the use of chokeholds varies across city and county lines.

Here’s what the I-Team found were written in the use of force policies for the following law enforcement agencies:

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

  • “A chokehold is never permitted unless deadly force is authorized.”

Manatee County Sheriff's Office

  • “Neck restraint techniques are prohibited and are not taught by this agency and as such, these techniques are not included in any in-service training.”
  • “Neck restraint techniques are included in the CJSTC curriculum, but are prohibited by this agency unless it is a life or death situation that would justify the use of deadly lethal force.”

Sarasota County Sheriff's Office

  • “The lateral vascular neck restraint (LVNR is not authorized for use as a non-deadly force option, and shall not be used by any sheriff’s office member as a control technique. This does not exclude the use of the LVNR in situations where the use of deadly force is justified.”

Lakeland Police Department

  • “The following tactics and/or devices are prohibited unless the use of lethal force is reasonably believed to be necessary as a means of last resort.”
  • “Neck restraints or other similar techniques used with the intent to restrict or block the airway of the individual.”

St. Petersburg Police Department

  • “Officers shall not, at any time, obstruct the breathing or carotid blood flow of a person by applying any pressure, obstruction or chokehold.”

Tampa Police Department

  • A spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department told the I-Team, “The chokehold - or stranglehold - was banned in the 1990’s as an authorized use of force by the Tampa Police Department unless deadly force was required. Since then, these techniques have not been listed as use of force options, and were not taught by our department. June 6, we incorporated text into our SOP’s in order to make it clear to the public that these techniques are not authorized uses of force unless deadly force is required.”
  • TPD’s policy now states, “Chokeholds are prohibited unless deadly force is justified.”

Clearwater Police Department

  • Clearwater PD updated its policy June 10, to include a specific mention of chokeholds.
  • “Officers are prohibited from utilizing any technique which compresses an individual’s airway or compromises blood flow to the brain (i.e. carotid restraint, chokehold, etc.). Such techniques are considered deadly force and shall not be utilized unless necessary during a deadly force encounter.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office

  • HCSO says, “We do not teach nor do we condone using chokeholds or strangleholds. Years of experience demonstrate that these types of movements can cause death or great bodily harm, and as a result, law enforcement training categorizes them as deadly force. A Deputy may only use deadly force when the deputy has a reasonable belief that deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to another person, including another deputy. We have included our Use of Force Standard Operating Procedure with this statement which has been developed to meet our mission of keeping our community safe.”
  • That being said, there is currently no specific mention of neck restraints or chokeholds in HCSO’s use of force policy.

Sarasota Police Department

  • Earlier this month, the I-Team obtained a memo showing the Sarasota Police Chief banning neck restraints two days after George Floyd’s death.
  • Prior to that memo, the department’s policy described the Vascular Neck Restraint (VNR) as, “an empty-handed control technique that compresses the carotid arteries and jugular veins. Used properly, this technique results in a decreased blood supply to the brain which leads to altered levels of consciousness allowing an officer to gain compliance of the subject.”

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Sarasota Police Department updates use of force policy to ban neck restraints

The I-Team found none of the following agencies specifically mention “neck restraints” or “chokehold” in their use of force policies:

  • Pasco County Sheriff's Office
  • Polk County Sheriff's Office
  • Citrus County Sheriff's Office
  • Hernando County Sheriff's Office
  • Temple Terrace Police Department
  • Tarpon Springs Police Department

8 Can't Wait

8 Can't Wait, a project launched by Campaign Zero, is designed to seek immediate change to police departments across the country.

Here are the following responses sent out by the following law enforcement agencies regarding #8CantWait:

Clearwater Police Department

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

  • HCSO says it embraces the conversations surrounding 8 Can't Wait. You can click here for a full list of 8 Can't Wait's recommendations that HCSO is working to meet or exceed.
  • Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister released the following statement:
    • “I hope the '8 Can’t Wait' conversation will help us turn the page from destroying buildings and stealing from businesses to a meaningful discussion on how we make progress together. We as law enforcement officers owe it to our community to share our policies and procedures. We have always done so and will continue. We have developed extensive use of force restrictions and de-escalation techniques for our team. We want the public to know what our deputies are trained to do and how this keeps our community safe. My promise is simply this -- we will continue to listen to the concerns of our citizens and strive to become an even stronger agency by working together."

Largo Police Department

Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

Pinellas Park Police Department

St. Petersburg Police Department

Tampa Police Department

  • TPD said 8 Can't Wait's eight proposed policies "have been in effect for years in the City of Tampa.
  • TPD is in the process of communicating with the Campaign Zero leaders to ensure the campaign's website "is accurately portraying these existing policies."